Honorable mentions: Clippers, Warriors, Kings
The Los Angeles Clippers are currently 33-30 on the season, but they own a 19-11 record when both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play.
As has been the theme since their superstar duo teamed up in 2019, the Clippers’ biggest obstacle is their health. Considering the Clips have played more than half of their games without a healthy Leonard-George duo, it is hard to catapult them into the most elite company.
In recent history, a lack of lineup continuity throughout a regular season almost never bodes well for a team in the playoffs.
At their healthy best, the Clippers can beat anyone. However, their success will fall on the shoulders of their superstars and their ability to stay on the court. More importantly, the Nuggets went a perfect 4-0 against LA this season with Leonard healthy for three of those contests. In total, Denver has now won six in a row against the Clips.
The Clippers clearly match up poorly with Denver, largely due to their relative lack of strength at the center position and their lack of a consistent pick-and-roll initiator.
Even so, counting out a team led by a three-time Finals MVP and another two-way superstar would be foolish.
Despite a rollercoaster 2022-23 season, the Golden State Warriors should also be taken seriously. As the defending champs, they have posted the No. 12 offensive rating in the NBA and have shown flashes of brilliance with a top-5 record at home.
However, they also own the fourth-worst road record in the NBA at 7-23. In addition, they have seen their defense take a massive dip since last year as they rank 18th in defensive efficiency.
Most notably, they have endured multiple injuries to Steph Curry, the engine that drives Golden State. Curry has missed 23 games and has only played in 38.
Like the Clippers, a lack of lineup continuity could make life very tough for the reigning champs come playoff time. The Warriors roster has collectively suffered 210 missed games due to injury, good for fourth-most in the association, according to Spotrac.
Nevertheless, the Warriors soundly defeated Denver in last year’s playoffs, making them a team the Nuggets would likely prefer to avoid.
Besides, if there is one team that can overcome a rough regular season through championship experience and leadership, it is the Golden State Warriors.
One more team that could pose a threat to Denver is the Sacramento Kings.
Owners of the league’s best offensive rating (one spot ahead of second-ranked Denver), the Kings have played inspired basketball all season long. They are currently on pace to break the longest active playoff drought in the NBA,
This young Sacramento squad will have absolutely nothing to lose this postseason, which could make them even more dangerous.